SURVIVING BY GRACE: Borno IDPs Suffer Acute Malnutrition as Govt Looks Away

Dwellers of El-Miskin Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camp in insurgency-ravaged Borno State, survive by grace amid acute malnutrition that has killed some of them, especially minors. The IDPs narrated their ordeals to WikkiTimes’ MOHAMMED TAOHEED.

Twenty-seven years old Sadiya Babagana, spoke with a heavy heart as she recounts how malnutrition pushed them to the extreme end.

“Some years back, when we migrated, children often died in this camp, mostly those below five. Some days, there would be at least three deaths, and in severe cases, we would lose up to nine,” said Sadiya.

Signpost erected at the camp

Although this occurred a long time ago, Sadiya, slouched on a mat with her baby deeply asleep, fears the inglorious fate would repeat itself this year as hunger returns to the camp.

This, she said, is inevitable as international organisations “stopped” supplying IDPs with relief materials or food. According to Sadiya, the humanitarian aid had stopped for about six months amid the government’s negligence.

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“When the organisations were giving us aid, our children were in good condition. However, they are not in good shape now that we don’t have such things again. For months, we didn’t see anything and we lacked sufficient food,” Sadiya said. 

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Sadiya, who hails from Marte Local Government of the state, said her husband earns a meagre income as a ‘mai ruwa’ (water vendor) and this could not sustain her, let alone her five children.

She explained that the only weapon IDPs have against malnutrition in the camp is ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a life-saving item that treats severe waste among young children.

A report by the World Food Programme shows that Borno is one of the leading states in Nigeria where conflict is affecting millions of lives. While about 4.4 million starved people battle with acute hunger, 320,000 children face malnutrition as tens of thousands either suffer food insecurity or humanitarian assistance.  


Whenever Falmata Idris, 38, recalls how her husband divorced her without any offence, the memory frustrates her.

One morning, her husband told her that he would be moving to the big cities in search of greener pastures, but she didn’t know that she would never see him again.

“He had mentioned travelling initially but that was the last time I saw him. Weeks after his departure, he contacted his brother to give the phone to me and I was so happy to hear from him, not knowing that he called to add to my hardship.

“He left because he cannot feed me and my children. Without a choice, I started sending my children to beg at the market so that we can have food to eat,” she muttered.

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Narrating how the guilt of a failed responsibility [as a husband and father] forced her man to abandon her, Falmata recounted that her husband shed tears like a toddler whenever her children complained about hunger. 

Now living at the camp which has over 7,000 IDPs, she has to cater for the needs of eight children and herself, alone.

“Since the aid stopped from all quarters, things became very tough and unbearable for us here at the camp and I depend on my oldest sons who go out to beg for raw food,” she lamented.


For more than four months, hunger has become a household name among displaced persons at various IDPs camps in Borno as the government and non-profit outfits such as ActionAid, International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council and others reportedly paused humanitarian support. 

In late 2021, the Borno State government said it resettled hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in its 13 official camps within the state due to alarming social vices and other factors.

“And each head of households was given N100,000 while their wives were given N50,000 each. The agency [SEMA] will be supporting them for at least one year as part of stabilisation and peacebuilding process and livelihood support,”

“Our plans for 2022 is to strengthen the capacity of the SEMA and due to the ongoing returning of the IDPs, Governor Zulum has increased our budget from N500 million to over N1 billion,” Hajiya Kolo, the Director-General of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, had said while expressing plans for the displaced persons.

A random view of the camp


In March 2023, the dwellers of the El-Miskin camp decried that they had been abandoned by the government during a visit by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), while dozens of children were suffering acute malnutrition.

“We have not gotten any food supply recently,” said Fatimah Ahmad, who was forced to flee her hometown in Mafa. “Before this time, we used to receive aid according to the number of our children. Since they (international organisations) left, we have been on our own.”

To sustain her family, Fatimah said she is now working as a maid for some rich people in a bid to complement what her husband brought from his daily labour. She would have sent her six children to hawk the petty things she sells but she said she is afraid of the caution by “some authorities and child rights activists against doing so.”

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Like others, she could not afford a standard school for her children yet. They attend Sangaya – an informal Islamic school – within the camp as a way to save them from street begging.


Like other women, Ya Buram Modu spoke about the struggle for survival. Ya Buram told our reporter she often sleeps on an empty stomach. She imagined how the little business of her husband could sustain a family with a dozen heads. 

“Normally, we eat only once a day. If something goes wrong sometimes, it means no food for the entire day,” she said in Kanuri, using the hem of her hijab to wipe her tears. 

“We rely on the onions that my husband is selling by the roadside, he hardly makes N500 in a day, from which he buys maize and other things for the family,” she added.

Ya Burma with her daughter

Ya Buram pauses for a long time — a silence which indicates deep sorrow — before describing how she lost one of her babies to malnutrition.

“I was told at the hospital that the twins I gave birth to were affected by acute malnutrition,” she said. “So all of us have to stay at the hospital for some weeks for the babies to recover and gain their strength.  Two months after we came back from the hospital, I lost them.”


Mallam Abubakar Aji

Expressing grief over the loss of a child, Abubakar Aji, lamented that his inability to provide a balanced diet for his son led to the death of his son. 

Aji has no strength to go into the bush to fetch firewood for sale again. 

“We all bear the cost of this hunger but how it cripples our children is a sad one,” said Aji. “They cannot bear what we are enduring. My boy has been so tiny from birth except for a large head.” 

“We want the government, the international communities and others to come to our aid. Our condition is beyond what people might think,” the 70-years old man pleaded. 

The firewood business of the El-Miskin IDPs

About the firewood business, Bulama Jubril shared with our reporter that their sustainability seems hard because they are making little income.

“I watch my young children scavenging at places I don’t even know. They beg or do chores to get food for themselves,” Jubril said. 

He could not stop them from alms begging because he “hardly makes N700 daily” from his business. “So how would such an amount sustain a family man like me?” he asked rhetorically. 


When contacted, Abubakar Ibrahim, the Head of Media of the B-SEMA, told this reporter that the Borno State government has already closed her IDP camps all over the state and dwellers have resettled.

“El-Miskin and Medinatul are household camps, not officially owned by the government. Sometimes, we try to reach out to them with sustainable provisions,” he explained. This means that dwellers of these camps survive on what they get out of menial jobs or what international organisations supplied to them before stopping their outreaches.

Asked if he was aware of the malnutrition in the camp, he said he did not “know about it but would investigate”. As of press time, he is yet to give feedback. Several calls put to him were not answered. 

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“I’m not feeling fine,” his last message reads.

Meanwhile, a HumAngle report on May 12 confirms that Nigerians at various camps for displaced persons in Borno State are still facing cases of acute malnutrition, quoting that about 1,283 children were admitted to a therapeutic feeding centre in the state a month earlier. 


In an interview with Dr. Mahmoud Abubakar Mukaram, the Registrar at the Department of Family Medicine, Federal Medical Centre in Kebbi State, he bemoaned the risk of acute malnutrition for displaced people. 

“Complications of malnutrition can be seen virtually in every IDP, but mostly hit are the children,” he told our reporter. He added that the health risks include “reduced immunity, increased risk of infections, anaemia, subcutaneous fat and muscles, hypothermia and nutrient deficiency” among others.

Saying that provision of amenities like potable water, hygienic sanitation and easy access to health facilities would go a long to prevent malnutrition, Mukaram opined that improved political will to block corruption with the B-SEMA to ensure constant distribution of aid from the government and international organizations to the IDPs that needed them for survival. 


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